BILL WATCH 59-2022 - PVO Bill Restored: Budget Business Delayed

BILL WATCH 59/2022

[11th December 2022]

In Parliament Last Week:

Budget Business Delayed by Sudden Absence of Finance Minister

PVO Bill Restored to Order Paper

The End of Virtual Sittings and Committee Meetings

On Tuesday 6th December the presiding officers in both Houses informed members of Parliament that at its meeting on Friday 18th November the Committee on Standing Rules and Orders [CSRO] had resolved that all Parliamentary sittings and committee meetings be held physical with immediate effect.  The only exception to this rule would be  meetings of the Parliamentary Legal Committee [PLC].

In the National Assembly Last Week

Budget business in the National Assembly is dealt with separately under its own heading below.

Speaker on Visit to Indian Parliament

Hon Advocate Mudenda was absent from Parliamentary sittings.  He was in India visiting the Indian Parliament.  In his absence the Deputy Speaker, Hon Tsitsi Gezi, presided on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Acting Speaker Hon M. Khumalo or Temporary Speaker, Hon T. Mavetera, presided in turn on Thursday.

Presentation of Two Bills and Their Referral to PLC

During the week the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs presented two Government Bills, which received their First Readings and were immediately referred to the PLC for its reports on their consistency with the Constitution:

Prisons and Correctional Service Bill [H.B. 6, 2022] [link] – to repeal and replace the current Prisons Act, which dates from the mid-1950s [published in the Government Gazette on 7th October; presented on Tuesday 6th December].

Electoral Amendment Bill [H.B. 11, 2022] [link] – to amend the Electoral Act [published in the Government Gazette on 18th November, presented on Wednesday 7th December].  Veritas has already commented on the Bill [link].

Both these important Bills will require public hearings to be conducted by the Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.  Of the two Bill the Electoral Amendment Bill is the most urgent, in view of section 157(5) of the Constitution states that once an election has been called, no change to the electoral law will have effect for the purposes of that election.  Hence if, as the Government intends, the Bill is to apply to the 2023 general election it will have to be passed by Parliament and promulgated as an Act before the President publishes a proclamation calling the election in terms of the Electoral Act, as explained in Election Watch 4/2022 [link].   

Both Bills fall under the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Restoration of Lapsed Bills to the Order Paper

There were thirteen Bills listed in Bill Watch 57/2022 of 2nd December [link] as having lapsed at the end of the Fourth Session on 23rd November – but, as we pointed out then, all save two of the thirteen could be restored to the Order Paper in terms of Standing Orders. 

On Wednesday 7th December the House approved a motion by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs restoring ten lapsed Government Bills to the Order Paper at the stage reached in the Fourth Session, as follows:  

For final consideration of extensive Committee Stage amendments and the non-adverse PLC report on those amendments [it is not too late to make further changes if it is recommitted to Committee Stage] – possibly to be followed by the Third Reading and transmission to the Senate:   

1.     Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill

For completion of Second Reading stage:

2.        National Security Council Bill

3.        Children’s Amendment Bill

4.        Child Justice Bill

5.        Labour Amendment Bill

6.        Insurance Bill

7.        Judicial Laws Amendment Bill

For Minister’s speech beginning Second Reading stage:

8.        Electricity Amendment Bill

9.        Medical Services Amendment Bill

10.    Public Finance Management Amendment Bill [see note below].

The Minister had included the lapsed Police Amendment Bill, but Hon Gonese raised the point that to restore it would be contrary to the Standing Order prohibiting restoration of a Bill in two successive sessions; the Minister accepted its deletion. The Public Finance Management Amendment Bill should also have been deleted on this ground, but was overlooked; it, too, was a Third Session Bill that had already been restored once for the Fourth Session.  This can and should be corrected by a House decision later – either by a deletion from the list or a waiver of the Standing Order concerned.

Not listed for restoration was the Insurance and Pensions Commission [IPEC] Amendment Bill, which also lapsed on 23rd November.  As the Bill had reached the Committee Stage before it stalled, the Minister of Finance and Economic Development may move a motion for its restoration.

Private Member’s Bill restored  On Thursday 8th December the House approved without debate a motion by Hon Dr Murire for the restoration to the Order Paper of his Private Member’s Institute of Loss Control and Private Security Managers Bill at the point reached in the previous session, which was awaiting beginning of the Committee Stage. 

Budget Business in the National Assembly

Fast-tracking for Budget Business in Both Houses

On Tuesday 6th December the Minister, having first sought the leave of the House, secured the agreement of members to the suspension of National Assembly Standing Orders 33(6), 53, 66(2), 68(5) and 147 “until the Budget has been disposed of”.  The effect of this suspension is to allow the PLC to report on the Budget Bills more speedily than usual [if necessary, on the same day as referral of a Bill]; to allow longer late-night and Friday afternoon sittings by waiving the usual automatic adjournment times; and to defer Question Time and other Private Members’ Business.

A similar motion was approved by the Senate on Thursday 8th December, in anticipation of the two Budget Bills – the Finance (No. 2) Bill and the Appropriation (2023) Bill – reaching the Senate next week. 

As things turned out, proceedings in the Budget debate on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were far from fast-tracked because of the absence of the Minister of Finance [as explained below] – and MPs, instead of being required to sit well into the night, were able to take advantage of early adjournments at 5.23 pm, 4.20 pm and 3.48 pm.

Budget debate 

Tuesday 6th December  A start was made on the presentation of reports of Portfolio Committees and the Public Accounts Committee on the 2023 Budget as presented on Thursday 24th November. 

Hon Dr Nyashanu led with the presentation of the Budget, Finance and Economic Development committee’s lengthy and comprehensive report which we shall endeavour to make available on the Veritas website.  By 5.23 pm another eleven reports had been presented, at which point the Acting Speaker interrupted proceedings with an announcement that the Minister of Finance and Economic Development had been called by the President and that further reports would have to be presented the next day.  The House then adjourned.

Wednesday 7th December  The usual Question Time and Private Members’ business was excluded by the fast-tracking resolution.  But when it came to continuation of the Budget debate, Hon Biti and Hon Gonese protested at the absence of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, saying it was essential for him to be present in person.  The Deputy Speaker said the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Finance and Economic Development officials would take notes for him and asked Hon Biti and Hon Gonese to approach the Chair and apparently satisfied them with whatever she said to them in confidence.  Six further reports were then presented before the House adjourned at 4.20 pm.

Thursday 8th December  After the approval of the Revised Georgetown Agreement by the House [see below], there were further complaints about the continued absence of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, who was apparently out of the country, and the lack of an explanation for it.  Eventually the objectors agreed to a compromise that the Deputy Minister would take notes for his Minister.  One further committee report on the Budget was presented – that of the Portfolio Committee on Defence, Home Affairs and Security Services which had been delayed by the inability of the Ministry of Defence to attend the feedback meeting with the committee the previous week.  After that presentation MPs were obviously in no mood to continue with Budget business.  On two occasions the division bells had to be rung when attendance dropped below the quorum of 70 MPs and the Deputy Speaker had to appeal to MPs to behave themselves.  Eventually, a quorum was assembled to approve Hon Dr Murire’s motion for the restoration of his Private Member’s Bill to the Order Paper, and the House adjourned until Tuesday 13th December without completing the Budget debate.

We await further information about how the House will proceed with the Budget debate and Budget business generally next week, remembering that the practice for the last two years has been for Parliament to complete work on the Budget before Christmas so as to enable the two Budget Bills to be gazetted as Acts before the end of the year.  Whether that practice can be followed this year seems to depend on the early return of the Minister of Finance and Economic Development.  If the aim is to that follow the practice, use of fast-tracking seems inevitable, for both late-night sittings and sittings on Friday 16th December, and even sittings next week. 

Gazetting of 2023 Budget Bills

The 2023 Budget Bills were published in the Government Gazette dated 10th December, according to GN 2611/2022:

Finance (No. 2) Bill, 2022 – H.B. 13, 2022 [link]

Appropriation (2023) Bill, 2022 – H.B. 14, 2022 [link].

Approval of International Treaty: Revised Georgetown Agreement

of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS)

Motions approving the ratification of the above Agreement were hastily rushed through both Houses on Thursday 8th December by the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.  The Minister emphasised in response to doubts expressed by Hon Biti that there were many benefits to be gained from Zimbabwe’s membership of the OACPSHon Biti called for the reduction of the backlog of international agreements signed by the President or President Mugabe and still awaiting approval by Parliament and subsequent Presidential ratification on behalf of Zimbabwe.  There are also Conventions which Parliament has agreed to accession and no action has been taken by the Government as in the case of the Convention Against Torture [link].  In the Senate Senators Komichi and Mavetera also raised the issue of the backlog of signed agreements awaiting Parliamentary approval.

The rush was necessitated by President Mnangagwa’s scheduled attendance at the 10th Summit of the OACPS Heads of State and Government in Luanda, Angola, running from 6th to 10th December. 

In the Senate This Week

Motion on President’s SONA of 23rd November

On 6th December Hon Senator S.S. Mpofu, seconded by Hon Senator Chief Siansali, moved the customary motion for the presentation to the President of an address affirming the Senate’s loyalty to Zimbabwe and its thanks for his SONA speech on 23rd November which marked the opening of the current Fifth Session.  Their two contributions took less than half an hour and the Senate adjourned at 3 pm.  The debate continued on the following day, with three contributions lasting three-quarters of an hour before the adjournment at 3.16 pm.

The Senate’s proceedings on Thursday 8th December were longer.  First of all, before prayers, in the absence of the President and Deputy President of the Senate and members of the Chairpersons Panel, Senators had to elect a Senator to be Acting President of the Senate.  Hon Senator Chief Ngungumbane was duly nominated and elected.  Question Time followed and was extended by ten minutes.  After that the Revised Georgetown Agreement was approved before the adjournment at 4.07 pm until Tuesday 13th December.

Question Time  Only the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Hon Mhona, was present, together with the Deputy Ministers of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development and Energy and Power Development.  The Acting President read out a long list of apologies, which caused Senators Komichi and Mudzuri to complain that Ministers and Deputy Ministers were disregarding their Parliamentary obligations by not taking the Senate seriously.  Given the existing problems with electricity supply, the Deputy Minister of Energy and Power Development, Hon Mudyiwa, was the target of most of the questions.  But Hon Mhona had his fair share, with questions about resurfacing of roads and the plight of people living near tolling points having to pay excessive tolls. Hon Mhona explained that special arrangements were in place for such persons.  Hon Machingura, Higher Education Deputy Minister, was able to add that bitumen had to be imported for resurfacing roads but that Midlands State University’s innovation hub was working on a locally-produced substitute for bitumen which was likely to save much foreign exchange.

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